Trials of the cultivation of gene-modified nematode-resistant bananas are to begin in Uganda later this year.
The nemotodes feed on the banana roots, weakening the plant which then tips over easily and produces smaller fruit. Nematodes are said to affect up to 30% of African bananas.
The nematode-fighting GM strategy is twofold: The first line of defence against the nematode is to incorporate a small piece of synthetic DNA into the genetic makeup of the banana plant. The plant’s thus modified DNA is then able to produce a small protein that will prevent the nematodes from detecting the banana’s roots.
The second line of the plant’s defence is via the incorporation of a piece of DNA into the genome of a bacterium which is capable of harmlessly infecting the banana plant. The modified bacterial DNA then produces, in the banana plant, a protein which stops the nematode from digesting the banana plant’s root flesh.
GM technology is as controversially in Uganda as it is in many other countries. But the sterility of commercial varieties of banana makes them a special case, since conventional breeding techniques that can be readily used on other plants do not apply to giving banana new traits, such as nematode-resistance.
The trials are the culmination of a multi-sector collaboration. It built on research originally done at Leeds University in the UK, the techniques then adopted by scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria. The trials will be conducted at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Laboratories and are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID.)
Various types of bananas are a key part of Uganda’s food security. (Source: Fresh Fruit Portal)